The Clash of Communication Styles in the Movie Rain Man
Communication styles are very important, both in personal interactions and in business dealings (David & DeAlwis, 2010). While there are many parts of life where communication is represented, one of the most common areas is through the interactions between siblings and other family members. It is in those relationships with relatives that many people first learn to speak and express themselves, and where some people learn that they must guard their communication based on the reactions of others (David & DeAlwis, 2010). For people who have disabilities, interactions and communication can be more difficult -- but those same people still have the desire to communicate. This can lead to a class of communication styles, especially between relatives who do not know one another that well or between those who struggle to communicate and those who have poor communication skills in general. One film where this clash is easily seen, and the film that will be analyzed here, is Rain Man. The goal of this paper is to carefully analyze the communication (and lack of it) between the two main characters, in order to provide the reader with information on the way communication styles differ between the average person and someone who is autistic. The paper will illustrate the differences in communication styles, as well as how these styles can be adjusted to work better together. While those who have autism may communicate differently, the movie Rain Man clearly shows that they have much to offer to the world and that communication with them is very possible in meaningful ways. The main points of this paper will address interpersonal communication and miscommunication, as well as the different ways communication can be used in a relationship where both people have very different ways of providing information to others.
The film Rain Man follows the story of Charlie Babbitt (played by Tom Cruise), and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). While they both have the same father, Charlie does not know of Raymond's existence until their father dies and leaves all of his money to Raymond (Rain Man, 1988). Charlie is a selfish, abrasive person, and Raymond is an autistic savant. When Charlie learns that his late father's money is all going to a mental institution to care for Raymond, he decides he is owed half of his father's estate (Rain Man, 1988). He goes to Ohio to get Raymond and bring him back to Los Angeles to meet with lawyers. Originally, Charlie was only interested in the money he believed he was owed, and thought Raymond's autism was being faked. He also used Raymond's savant abilities to count cards in Las Vegas, and found other ways to use him (Rain Man, 1988). Eventually, Charlie realizes that Raymond is the protective figure he remembers from his early childhood. He called the figure "Rain Man," and had convinced himself the figure was an imaginary friend and not real (Rain Man, 1988). Through spending time with Raymond and coming to truly understand his autism, he learns to love Raymond and becomes protective of him. He decides he does not want the money after all, and wants to care for Raymond -- but Raymond cannot decide what he wants, and his care is more than Charlie can handle. The film ends with Raymond in proper care, and Charlie promises to visit him in two weeks (Rain Man, 1988).
The Value of Self-Disclosure
The depth of self-disclosure displayed by Charlie is important to note, as it changes drastically throughout the film. Self-disclosure is when a person is open about himself or herself in his or her communication with others, and when he or she is able to properly recognize important traits within himself or herself and provide that information to others. It is used in the film through Charlie's self-importance in the beginning all the way through the realizations he comes to at the end. This is originally seen in Charlie's smug attitude, where he fails to understand why he is not provided with his father's money and feels as though he should have received it. The language and communication skills he uses are poor at that time in the sense that he does not know how to express himself in a healthy way to which others can properly relate. This is almost like trying to speak to someone using a foreign language, as those who speak other languages can have trouble communicating with one another (David & DeAlwis, 2010). While it may not be for lack of trying to communicate properly, those who speak different languages simply cannot understand one another well. In order to foster understanding, these individuals have to find a way to work with one another, either through a common language that they share or through the creation of a unique "language" they can use with one another (David & DeAlwis, 2010).
Using a type of language with one another is part of Charlie's self-disclosure in the movie, as he moves from a self-centered, arrogant individual who is only interested in money to someone who cares deeply about a disabled relative. The way he remembers Raymond as the movie goes on, and how he comes to understand that Raymond always tried to care for him and protect him even though he was really not capable of doing so puts a completely different "spin" on the movie and on the way Charlie and Raymond communicate with one another. The ability to self-disclose, and to be honest about that self-disclosure, is an important part of the communication process and can have value for those who want to reach out to others (Richardson & Queen, 2012). It is not always easy to go through the self-disclosure process, because a great deal of it can be painful. A person is forced to admit to themselves that they have difficulties and issues that they may be ashamed of or with which they may not be comfortable, just as Charlie had to do.
He also came to the realization of how Raymond tried to protect him as a child, and understood -- perhaps for the first time in his life -- the bond between brothers and the value of protecting those about whom one cares. This realization helped Charlie become much more than he was at the beginning of the film, and changed the self-disclosure he originally had to something far different and much more beautiful and honest. Raymond already had that honesty, but it was something Charlie desperately needed to find in order for his life to actually be complete. A person who is not honest with himself or herself, or who does not know who he or she really is, can have a great deal of trouble with self-disclosure (David & DeAlwis, 2010). That generally comes about because the person is not able to disclose the things he or she does not know or understand about himself or herself, even if he or she wanted to do so. Self-discovery is required before self-disclosure can be honest.
The Significance of Non-Verbal Communication
Self-disclosure is not the only important communication issue in the film. Another very important consideration is non-verbal communication and the meaning behind the things that go unsaid. This is seen more in Raymond than it is in Charlie, because Raymond does not have the ability to express himself the way he would if he did not have autism. However, it is very clear that Raymond is not unintelligent, and that many things matter to him on a deep level. It seems as though he must feel frustration in not being able to communicate with the outside world what he really feels and thinks on the inside. Those who are not able to communicate, or who do so in ways many people may not understand, often suffer in this way (David & DeAlwis, 2010). It can leave them frustrated, depressed, and even angry, because they often feel as though they are at fault for their inability to get their point across or make people understand the kinds of things that are really significant in their lives. Despite that concern, many people who have trouble communicating can learn to do so in new and better ways to which others are receptive. That can help them understand more about their world, as well as the world of others and what it can offer them if they are open to it (Lucas, 2010).
Non-verbal communication manifests itself in a number of ways, and can be anything that does not require language or speech to convey (Richardson & Queen, 2012). People communication non-verbally when they smile at one another, nod, shake hands, or even make an inappropriate gesture. They can also show displeasure by scowling, tapping their foot, or crossing their arms, and they can show they are happy by smiling, pointing to something that matters to them, or providing other expressions of joy that they feel comfortable…